The goals of this research included the following:
- Developing theoretical and methodological approaches for studying trends in the change of youth solidarities.
- Studying the main current trends in new youth solidarities, in particular: (1) factors and vectors of the structuring of modern youth solidarities; (2) major territorial, cultural and social spaces (including the virtual space of the Internet) for the actualization of major forms of youth solidarities; (3) the conditions for the emergence of local or bottom-up youth initiatives; (4) leading actors (political, social, civil actors and public opinion leaders, etc.) participating in the mobilization of youth into solidarities of different kinds.
This research has the following results:
a) In terms of theory
Developing theoretical and methodological approaches for studying the support for / participation in social movements by young people, testing the possibilities of using a concept of “social movement” to understand a variety of youth solidarities and conceptualize the subcultural, political, religious and value choices of young people.
b) In terms of methodology
Creating a unique methodology for studying social sentiments among young people as well as identifying the latest trends and focuses of youth solidarities and their resonance amongst a wider youth audience.
c) In terms of new empirical knowledge
Collecting new empirical material describing the spaces, actors and vectors of new solidarities and social participation of young people.
Public debates around different forms of youth activism are now in full swing. The state authorities are taking an active interest in it, so they are developing strategies for youth policies and patriotic education programs, searching for new ideologemes of the spiritual and moral education of young people. Most documents focus on the “political” dimension of youth activism, which is quite understandable. The state is not so interested in youth reality as looking for mechanisms to mobilize youth resources (first and foremost, for political purposes) to recover from a deep social crisis exacerbated today by the global financial and economic recession.
“Subcultures undermining the moral and spiritual values”, “teenage mothers”, “young people trying to avoid responsibility for the future of Russia and prefering to live together outside marriage”, politically passive and apathetic (in a civil sense) youth become by turns a focus of attention. Meanwhile, the real problems of young people belonging to different strata, spaces or cultures (just like their parents and other adults) often remain outside the scope of interest.
Today’s teenagers choose different ways to escape from adult control – they create their own cultural and political spaces (both on- and off-line), use social networking, get involved in solidarities trying to break up the monotony of their everyday existence in a variety of unusual ways. This so-called youth activism moved from politics (in its traditional sense) to the territory of youth culture in the mid-1990s. The social (public) capital of companies and communities in virtual networks becomes as, if not more, important as formal status and social position.
Theories of subculture came in for serious criticism at the end of the last century. Modern Western sociologists began to talk about post-subcultures, the death of subcultures, the birth of new youth tribes, distinguished by fluidity, transparent boundaries, temporary and loose connections. In modern Russia, just like in any other country which is becoming part of the global space, alongside with the remains of “old” mini-groups there are all sorts of imitators taking sides, “a la subculturists”, or a kind of tourist attraction.
Youth solidarity is one of the new terms used to describe a new youth social engagement. This term is important as the most appropriate construct to describe different types of youth groups that vary in gender, style or subculture. Solidarities can comprise various youth groups, be real or imaginary, temporary or more permanent, include different subcultures or have nothing to do with subcultures. A practiced lifestyle (including but not limited to consumption) and the collective idea of the antipode groups has become the most important thing for such group identities.
It is time to rethink the new status of young people in society. It is time to abandon any unifying principles for this complex social group when the essence of transformations in today’s youth space comes down to just one, albeit really important, attribute. It is essential to avoid both the idealization of youth (as happened in the Soviet period) or demonization of youth (as in Western post-war and national post-perestroika literature). It is necessary to look for new approaches that can accommodate present-day practices, which will bear no similarity or resemblance to any models of the past. A conceptual framework needs to be developed, one that would embrace “live” images describing youth space in adequate language for expressing the new phenomena of cultural youth scenes.
A diversity of youth space is not entirely limited to various types of youth solidarities. Just like at all times, more special, somewhat provocative youth groups (funs of epatage) are in the minority and by no means fully determine the vectors of development. Today’s most common problems are equally important for them, just like for all young people including mainstream groups – growing youth unemployment, rigid social stratification, a more difficult entry into working life, using new social and cultural resources, access to high-quality education, taking up family and gender roles, responding to state-driven or political intervention, political and civil apathy/ mistrust. All these questions are not directly related to classical structural attributes – social origin, gender, ethnicity, place of residence, etc.